Alan Kay at The Association of American Medical Colleges (1996)

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good morning ladies and gentlemen would you please take your seats welcome
to the association's final plenary session our presider this morning is the
president of the association dr. Jordan Cohen
morning everyone I'm really excited about the opportunity to participate in
this morning's session before I introduce our speaker though I would
like to encourage those of you in the back to come forward there are plenty of seats up for that they're going to be a
number of graphical elements to the talk
this morning that you'll certainly benefit from being closer to see so if
you want to come forward please do and I've been assured that our speakers will not mind if you get up and leave early
if that's necessary so come forward if you can well this is a very special
session we've entitled it information as
the bridge to the future in keeping with
our theme about building bridges of the future and as I mentioned in my remarks on Friday clearly one of the major
themes we wanted to have clearly in evidence at this meeting was the fact
that information and the incredible revolution that's occurring in the
information sciences offers all of us in academic medicine I think an unjust an
unprecedented opportunity to make quantum leap forward in the way we do
everything that we're responsible for in our institution so I really commend you
to listen carefully to what Alan Kay has to say this morning because I think it
has tremendous relevance for for everything that we do and I think those
who still believe that this is a passing phase a passing fancy really do so at
their peril because I think there are a few advances in technology that that are
as as exciting and as meaningful as what is going on in information ability to
harness information to create it to collect it customize it organize it
disseminated ability to do all those things I think are clearly going to be
the things that sort out the winners from the losers and the leaders from the
followers in the next century and beyond
well someone who has always been aware of this particular attribute of
technology as Alan Kay always a visionary he is credited with developing
the idea of the personal computer the concept of a new
generation of laptop computers and the overlapping window interfaces that we
now use and take sort of pretty much for granted as as as if it were always there
while a scientist at Parc Xerox labs he
led one of the research teams whose work ultimately led to the development of the workstation the Macintosh computer the
Ethernet the laser printer and the networked client servers just a few of
the minor tools that are now in evidence later he was chief scientist at Atari a
that was before he joined Apple Computer in 1984 where he stayed until literally
just a few weeks ago when he joined Walt Disney Company as a Disney fellow and he
is now the driving force in Walt Disney's Imagineering x' research and
development organization where he works to find innovative ways to enhance the
educational and entertainment value of Disney's offerings dr. K seems to have
been on hand whenever the big events in the computing field took place and I
want to give you just one quote from him yet that's published in the Nicholas
Negroponte EES book the quote from dr. K is that point of view is worth 80 IQ
points think about that ones point of
view is worth 80 IQ points so as you
listen to dr. K's remarks keep in mind that we are looking for that boost in IQ
in academic medicine and I'm really greatly honored to introduce to you Alan
thank you
thank you well gosh I just didn't think anybody would come out at nine o'clock
in the morning on Sunday thank you I'll try and make it worthwhile for you maybe
the first idea we should take issue with or at least explore a little bit is the
notion that information is the bridge to the future and I can't think of a better
way of doing that than to take you back
to a Harvard commencement Harvard
graduation a few years ago and we follow
an NSF camera team right after the
diplomas have been awarded they asked a few simple questions of some of the
graduating seniors alumni and faculty so let's roll that first tape and check
this out
Aaron Lee fingerman candidate in art
despite a lifetime of the very best education students in our classrooms are
failing to learn science many of these students will graduate from college with
the same scientific misconceptions that they had on entering grade school to
test how a lifetime of Education affects our understanding of science we ask
these recent graduates some simple questions in astronomy consider for
example that the causes of the seasons is a topic taught in every standard curriculum okay I think the seasons
happens because as the earth travels around the Sun it gets nearer to the Sun
which produces warmer weather and gets farther away which produces colder
weather and that's it and hence the seasons how hot it is or how cold it is
at any given time of the year has to do with the the closeness of the earth to
the Sun during the seasonal periods the earth goes round the Sun and and it gets
hotter when we get closer to the Sun and it gets colder when we get further away from the Sun these graduates like many
of us think of the Earth's orbit as a highly exaggerated ellipse even though
the Earth's orbit is very nearly circular with distance producing
virtually no effect on the seasons we carry with us the strong incorrect
belief that changing distance is responsible for the seasons I took
physics and planetary motion and relativity waves I've never really had a
scientific background whatsoever and I and I got through school without having it I've gotten very far without having
it I had quite a bit of science in high school yeah through physics
want first year in two years of chemistry regardless of their science
education 21 of the 23 randomly selected
students faculty and alumni of Harvard University revealed misconceptions when
asked to explain either the seasons or the phases of the Moon when it's further
away from the Sun then it gets colder the earth
position interferes with the reflection
of the Sun against the moon so I think
we can see that the real curriculum at Harvard is confidence 101
[Applause] actually when I when I first saw this
tape a couple years ago I kept on waiting for NSF to ask the logical
second questions of these people and they never did because they were on a
they're on one track but it happened
that a couple of weeks after I saw this this tape the first time I had to give a talk over at UCLA to basically a
first-year graduate course that had some also had some seniors who are going to
graduate and a few professors so the end
of the course I asked for volunteers to come up and talk to me afterwards and I
got a chance to ask the very same questions about the seasons and about
the phases of the Moon and I found about the same roughly 95 percent had serious
misconceptions the the NSF here cites 21
out of 23 had serious misconceptions about one of the other or both and I
found about the same but of course I got a chance to ask the second question so
the people who had this notion about the
relative distance of the Earth from the Sun being the cause of the seasons I
asked them well tell me when it's summer up here in North America do you know
what season it is down in South America in Australia and what is it it's winter
everybody knows that and these kids all did and then I just did one of these
Jack Benny Waits
and the wheels started slowly turning
and to the the kids and professors that
thought that the phases of the Moon had something to do with the earth being in
the way which of course is what causes lunar eclipses I asked them will tell me
your entire life have you ever seen the Sun and the moon in the sky at the same
time and have you sure everybody has and
often the moon is in phase so again that
that long pause while they struggle to realize what was actually going on and
my claim here is that NSF was barking up
the wrong tree we have to be very very happy that these kids could not remember
the explanation of the seasons or the phases and the moon that they were
taught in grade school because we learned something the problem here is not a science problem the problem is
what I would call a math problem in the sense that math is about how we can
infer things from premises and every
single one of these kids had the information to contradict the very
theory they were formulating so confidently and couldn't find that
information it was buried somewhere else
even though it was about the same subject that's a math problem it's a
thinking problem and one way of putting
talking about information here is that most people in fact in a conference like
this most people come to conferences like this in search of information but
in fact most of us and these kids especially what they need needed was not
more information but more context they couldn't deal with the information that
they had in an interesting way or what we would call an operational way so an
image for that I'll go to the slides
here is my favorite saying of McLuhan which is I don't know who discovered
water but it wasn't a fish and of course he wasn't interested in fish or water he
meant us where the fish and the water is our beliefs
now here's an interesting thing to think about which is if we could directly
perceive reality we would then have nothing to argue with anybody else about
because there's just one reality and if we're perceiving that reality that's all
there is but in fact the reason we're constantly fighting with each other all
over the earth for thousands of years is because we don't perceive reality at all
what we do is we make up stories about it those stories are beliefs they become
the goldfish bowl at the we swing or swim around in and what happens is that
at some point most of these great stories we make up get reified by us
into dogma that is we start claiming these stories of reality and then all of
a sudden our stories are different from other people's stories we think they're reality and all of a sudden we have
incredible conflict so this is something that happens over and over again let me
ask the AV people to keep the slides on
so here's another way of looking at this idea here I flatten out the goldfish
bowl into a plain pink plain and this is
an idea from Arthur Kessler who was a terrific novelist who became a cognitive
science at Stanford late in life and his
way of thinking of it is that we're kind of like ants wandering through a context
terrain in this case it's colored pink as we snake our way around through it
every once in a while we might have a little blue thought but our entire life
of parents and culture and school just
smashes that blue thought right back down into pinkness and when we make
progress we make progress by advancing in the pink domain for instance the the
railroads in the 20s and 30s never
invested a cent in either airplane
factories or airline travel everything they thought about was making well
better better track faster locomotives meanwhile the
competition that was going to do them in was flying up above them where they weren't even looking there were
two-dimensional people optimizing
locally and missing the big picture and this is a theme that this is one of the
most important themes it's something what's interesting about this is
something that everybody knows about it's like the theme of hubris in Greek
tragedy that most of what goes wrong with human beings has to do with our
capacity for overreaching we all know
that but in fact we keep on doing it there's one of these things that has to surface then Kessler says every once in
a while when you're maybe when you're taking a shower out jogging waking up in
the morning these constraint mechanisms
for making you be a pink type person let go and all of a sudden you have an
insight you see that what you thought was a pink thing is that suddenly a blue
thing and this is an incredible revelation and in fact it sometimes has
the trappings of religion and it's like
it comes from God almost and Kessler pointed out something that was quite
quite interesting says if you're telling a joke then the reaction is ha ha if
it's science or die I guess medicine
it's AHA or sometimes it's oh and an art
it's ah because in each one of these
cases what we have here is what Kessler calls the act of creation is to see
something that you thought was one kind of thing to be able to see it completely differently and it's this kind of change
in point of view that I meant when I said point of view is worth ad IQ points
if you imagine a person like a Leonardo
with a 250 IQ or more 10,000 years ago
or even in the time that Leonardo lived you can see how little a person with
unbelievable IQ could actually accomplish compared to what's been
accomplished by the shifts in point of view that have taking place more
gradually and given as more powerful tools for viewing the world and of course here's one really
unpleasant thought which is in order to get those blue ideas you have to have
some blue knowledge and so in fact some
of the most highly educated people I know are completely uncreated because
they've only got good at pink things a lot of engineers I know are that way
I dare say more than a few doctors because when you get really really good
at that thing it is so it so creates its own reality that it's hard to imagine
that there's anything else there and the the new ideas are pretty much invisible
that's in part what was happening to these to these college students another
thing was happening to them NSF goes in a little bit is that the way that they
remembered things that they had learned was not what mathematicians would call
operational learning or scientists would call operational learning that was
compartmentalized learning the learning was kind of in terms of stories or
almost like learning proverbs King
Solomon was the wisest person in the Bible and it says why because he knew
3,000 proverbs which is more than anybody else and the way a proverbs work
is if you come home from a trip and your significant other is really glad to see
you then the reason for that is absence made the heart grow fonder but if you
come home from a trip and your significant other is not particularly glad to see you then what's the reason
for that out of sight out of mind
if you're faced with a situation that
really confirms one of your beliefs then
you say where there's smoke there's fire but if you're faced with a situation
that you don't happen to believe in beforehand what you say is you can't
tell a book by its cover and in fact this is why proverbs are mostly used in
literate semi illiterate or illiterate societies because if you list out the
Proverbs in fact this is one of the big transitions in Greek thought was when
they started actually putting out there but their beliefs about legal systems by
chiseling them on the wall walls of things so the citizens could read them
they started discovering that when looked at that way things that it seemed
perfectly reasonable in fact the law is all about case based reasoning these
under these circumstances the following thing happened back then they started
noticing that that if you compare this one with this one over here out here in
your visual field they started contradicting each other and
contradiction is actually one of the major bases for doing real mathematical
kind of thinking so the part of the
problem with these students was that they were embedded we could say in the
most technologically rich culture in the
world and we can imagine that every single one of them had access to
personal computers all the way through school and at college and yet their
thinking patterns were being done in a Neolithic form in a preliterate form
their knowledge was being compartmentalized in forms of things of
Proverbs in which contradictions didn't matter to them so one way of thinking
about this is that we have a natural way of thinking about things built into us
which is to think about things in terms of stories one of the problems with
stories as I mentioned is this this tolerance of contradiction one way of
thinking your own experience if you see a movie today you really like
or play and it happens to contradict in every way shape or in form the movie you
saw last week that you like it's not going to bother you not going to bother
you at all because stories create their
own context you evaluate them by how good they are right now this is why it's
very dangerous when you think of the
difference between going into a theatrical context where you willingly
give yourself up to the context that's been created on the stage by the author
and by the actors by the scenic designers and the almost exactly same
environment of a political rally all the
people darkroom music rich words rolling forth and so
forth and it's quite clear that some
other mechanism has to interpose itself of saying in the theater well it's okay
for me to give myself over to this fantasy land but I think it's clear that
in a political context it makes no sense at all to give ourselves over to that
fantasy land but in fact most of us do and that's why politicians keep on doing
it so - two other big systems of
thinking that have been invented that are not directly built-in to us we have
to learn how to do them our logic which I think we're all familiar with which is kind of a taking thought and making it
into a mechanism where you link one thought to another through inferential
chains of thing is there's one break in the infirm an inferential change then
the Machine doesn't run and the idea that we're thinking about doesn't doesn't hold water that has been the
basis of many different systems including the arguments that depose the
monarchy that created this country and then a more recent kind of thinking
which you could call ecological you could call the first story logical the
second one logical and the third one ecological in which what we're dealing
with is really systems that have the
same complexity as the interior of cells or the interior of tissues
the complexity of the human body or Ecology's in which if something goes
wrong it doesn't kill off the organism there are dozens and dozens of
homeostatic mechanisms there to
constantly bring the system back to a kind of dynamic equilibrium those
systems are just starting to be studied and particularly just in the last thirty
years or so because the study of these last kind of thinking is very much
facilitated by having computers to help you with you can think of the logical
thought systems as being facilitated by having a particularly in particular
alphabetic type reading and writing they
came in at the same time and if you think about it for five minutes or so
you can see why reading and writing and particularly alphabetic reading and
writing might have something to do with evolving logical thought I'm going to
talk about that and a little bit more so part of the problem is that these kids
who went to Harvard never learned how to do either of these invented kinds of
systems that have been so important over the last three or four hundred years it
simply wasn't part of their education at any point meanwhile they're taking courses in mathematics and science but
they were learning them in in this proverbial form certainly one of the
most disputing experiences I have ever had are the occasions where I've wound
up have trying to have scientific conversations with high school science teachers and by and large they simply do
not understand what science is at all they teach it as religion it is taught
as something that is this was found out by great people it's true you have to
learn what the truth is you have to be able to regurgitate that truth and so forth very discouraging so the important
thing about this goldfish bowl metaphor is that the human mental iam our ability
to think is because of the way it's set up basically always forces us to be in
some sort of goldfish bowl sometimes we can pretend to be in more than one
goldfish bowl at once but nobody has
found a way of training us out of this particular context dependent way of
thinking about things but of course the culture that we're born into and even so
we can think of being in the green culture might be incredibly helpful if
we have diabetes some cultures are have
a context that allows us to do something serious about in other cultures can't we
can also think of this green goldfish
bowl is something that we might actually create this has been the big thing
that's happened in the last 400 years is this understanding this enough so we realize hey we can create systems of
thought calculus is an example of creating a system of thought it's it's a
completely different way of looking at the world in terms of the integration of
differential equations a very very powerful idea not something that's built
into our nervous system at all and the the halving of it turns a person with an
ordinary IQ into something at the level of a Newton that's where the original
idea of the ad IQ points came from and
of course any field like medicine or
computer science or science in the large itself has to have this in mind as it's
trying to progress so Joseph Campbell once pointed out that the biggest
problem with with religions and the
origin of religions is that most of them he said came from social geniuses having
an incredibly useful insights about the way people should live but the problem
and these insights being abstract are
put in some kind of metaphor usually a story if you look back
historically to try and get what the import of this new insight was but a few
generations later the followers of this religion have reified it into dogma that
as the metaphor is taken literally and now people are supposed to believe in
the metaphor itself and forget what the actual insight is and we see that
happening over and over again in science so Thomas Kuhn who wrote a book about
the structure of scientific revolutions pointed out that even in science the
place where people are the most concerned about what's really going on
in trying to not get fooled by their senses in the context in which they live
he said even in science revolutions take about 25 years and the reason he gave
for that is that you have to let the old scientists die off because once you get
good at something there's less and less motivation to get out of that pink
context once you've optimized being able to do things in the pink so another way
of thinking about what I'm talking about here is that we mainly get smarter by
changing the way we represent our ideas this is not an informational idea at all
but an architectural idea here's something that your kids will love you
for if you copy down these numbers from 1 to 9 exactly as they appear there and
you can play this game with them you pick a number they pick a number you
pick a number they pick a number the first person who's any of who three of
whose numbers first person who picks three numbers that add up to 15 wins and
you can always beat your kid doing this
and they will not like that but they will love you when you show them how you're doing it so they can always beat
their friends and what you have done they're playing with this but what
you've done is simply to take this and draw four lines and now can you see what
game you're playing what game is it
Tic Tac Toe something everybody knows how to play with and when we now see
that these numbers are a magic square in which every column Row and diagonal adds
up to 15 so this is a simple example of what calculus does for us which it
basically pre computes powerful results
in an area that's of use to us and gives us a framework for thinking about now
this is not the same thing as information this is context ting
meanwhile the poor kid over there is struggling having to remember kid is
still in an oral Society the kid has to remember the numbers that have already
been picked and doesn't have this automatic computation mechanism working
for them that's basically what we're out after when we create a new kind of
goldfish ball now what I want to do now
is turn to some inventions in personal
computing that we made a few years ago give you a little bit of a sense of how
they how they happened and why they've
taken so long still are taking so long to get into the general culture in
particular in a way that would help you the genesis for personal computing goes
all the way back to 1945 we just celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of
this last year a bunch of us people who
have a lot of gray in their hair met at MIT to commemorate the 50th anniversary
of Vannevar Bush's idea of Memex Bush was President Roosevelt science
advisor and in 1945 he wrote an Atlantic Monthly article called as we may think
and in there he just said in not too
many years from now everybody will be able to have in their home a desk and in
the interior of this desk will be the equivalent of a small-town libraries
worth of books five to ten thousand volumes held on high-resolution optical
storage and we'll be able to look at all of this wealth of information with
multiple screens on top of the desk will be put in information they'll be both
pictures and text and most importantly he said there will be cross connective
trails he called them that will cross connect up the information and start
turning the information into knowledge and even maybe into wisdom and he said
that they'll even be a profession born with this device which he called
pathfinding so there'll be people called path finders whose job will be to find
interesting connections between the raw stuff that's here and they'll sell these
connections as as products so this was
bushes bushes notion and it happened that a lot of the people that had something to do with personal computing
were aware of this Douglas Engelbart whom you'll meet in a minute read this
he was in the Navy in the Pacific as I guess a 19 year old or so read in 1945 I
was only 5 years old in 1945 but I came across it when I was a teenager in the
50s and other people were captivated because who wouldn't want to have 10,000
volumes worth of the best that humans have ever found out all cross-index and
linked so that you could add to it and etc etc I mean it's an incredibly
romantic vision and around the end of
the 50s and early 60s people started
doing something about this already in the late 50s people had
started writing papers saying the destiny of information science is that
before too many years are out we will have what was termed then an information
utility and the idea was to think of
something like the power and lighting utility that we have for bringing in
water and gas and electricity that's now
in a one-for-one correspondence with our
with our our houses with our places of
living and among them John McCarthy said there's going to be an information
utility like that as to is everybody will have a terminal at home and be able to
connect be connected into the world of information and this was literally the
the first solid proposal for what became
the Internet there's a direct chain from this proposal through the internet that
we have today the people who did the internet were part of this early group
and I show you here just two interesting things from the very early 60s 1960 to
the invention of computer graphics by Ivan Sutherland which was done by the
way on a on a computer the size of this
room the last computer in the u.s. large enough to have its own roof it was the
building and we like to think of that time of when there was only one personal
computer which was when Ivan Sutherland used it from 3 to 6 o'clock early in the
morning was about the power of an X T of
10 years ago computer graphics was
invented on that and there was already a thing that I think of as the first personal computer called the link also
done at Lincoln labs at the same time by Wes Clark and you see that one of its
design criteria was that you should be able to look over it literally Wes Clark
did not walk this thing looming over you he wanted it to be something that you
could loom over it and that was one of the impulses towards personal computing
and then Engle Bart came along and what
I'm going to do is show you the the first cut on the second videotape here
which is Engelbart around 1966 to 68 and
I think you'll see it's a very modern picture so let's roll that tape that's
not it but now it's it
so here's a photograph taken around 1966
down at s RI and Menlo Park I daresay
most of you in this room do not have a two page display on your desk e so I'll
say I'd like to go to produce but I'd like to go to produce they get big I
like to say one branch only and let me look just that low can I see it
oh I can say I'd like to see one line
only I can see it but there's another
thing that I can do there's a root I said I have here
so here I'm afraid I'll need a different pictures of you so here's what I do with
a picture drawing capability here's a slight and lamp if I start from work and
here's the route I seem to have to go to pick up all the materials and that's my
plan for getting home tonight but if I want to I can say the library what am I
supposed to pick up there I can just point to that you know oh I see overdue
books and all while there was a statement there with that name on it go back what if I what's my supposed to
pick up the drugstore mm-hmm I see you've everything all right
[Music] can do things if I want we'll just say I'd like to interchange the Protestant
and materials bingo and they're all numbered right and if I care to look and
are changing them very quickly cans are going to get interchanged with Prados
they do it and all gets renumber okay so
does 30 years ago and you might have noticed that the response he was getting
on this system was a little faster than you get on your PCs today so it's
something we can talk about later but it's an interesting phenomenon that of
the many interesting things that Engelbart was the first of course he was
the inventor of the mouse and the inventor of hypertext that you see there
so what what people are just starting to experience on the Internet now through
the World Wide Web is like what he had 30 years ago in Menlo Park and the
important thing for you to realize is that there was nothing about the technology back then that precluded you
from having it back then nothing it was
possible on the tiny that machine he was
on served 20 people and it had a memory
a ram of a grand total of 192 K 192 K so
it was all possible back then and one of the people sponsors he went to to try
and get them to take it over and make it part of our lives was AT&T and they
threw him out on their ear he just they just had no sense of what
it was that he was actually driving at the other thing it was really interesting about angle Bart is he said
way way back in the beginning that most interesting things that people do are
done by more than one person working together and so his idea it was
I don't want as he likes to say I he says I didn't want to invent personal
computing I wanted to invent group computing that he want what he wanted to
do is boost the collective IQ of human groups working on important things
together these ideas that he has and he
would be a good speaker to have maybe next year because he gives a great talk
which is essentially the talk that I heard him give back in 1966 that I think
is more compelling to most people today than it was back then people are now
starting to get to see this is a blue idea right and it's only after 30 years
of peach will grudgingly starting to get
involved with these things that they can understand what this genius was able to
think out think of right out of the blocks so in 67 this is my first
personal computer was a desktop computer for a very special desk namely those
made out of steel it's a weight about 400 pounds but it it had all of the
paraphernalia had a tablet instead of a
mouse so you could draw on it and it had
actual windows that clipped had many it
had multiple views of things at many of the paraphernalia that were used to
today and while I was working on this
machine I visited RAND Corporation in
Santa Monica and saw something that really blew my mind and this isn't now
in the summer of 68 so let's show the second cut on that tape here's the
system without a keyboard
we erase a flow arrow then move the connector out of the way so that we may
draw a box in its place recognizes he wants a box and makes one now it's
recognizing his handwriting the printing in the box is being used as commentary
only in this case the box is slightly too large so he may change its size
that's where modern window control came from literally then draw flow from the
connector to the box attach a decision
element to the box and draw a flow from it to scan we then erased the floor
arrows attached to the process post new area and move the box to a new position
this allows us to draw a new box okay
now you might have noticed that that system works a little bit better than
the hand writing systems you might have seen recently and again the reason here
is even more interesting which is people in the computer field are almost
completely disinclined to look back in the past for any good ideas that might
have been done this is in part why systems are worse today than angle Bart
conceived of them and it's in part why the pocket organizers the PDAs today are
worse than these people that ran conceived of them people that ran were
actually much better than the average programmer a designer of today but in
fact it didn't even matter because the program or designer of today is
egotistical II involved in doing their own invention
even if it's worse and because you the
public don't know about this stuff in the past you don't even complain about it there's an interesting thing to think
of this these videos are still shocking to people today now the same summer I
visit a seymour papert and saw that he was trying to do something really
incredibly interesting which he was trying to get kids to think in these
more powerful forms by getting them to do certain kinds of things with
computers to make simulations on computers of complex ideas and learn the
ideas from the inside by actually constructing them that changed my life
completely that was one of the biggest blue things that ever happened to me and
flying back on the plane to Utah in 68 I
designed this in May when I got back there I made this cardboard model of
what I thought a children's computer would look like which later became known as the Dynabook and we made it Hollow
we filled it with lead pellets to see how heavy you could make it before you didn't want to carry it anymore on the
notion that portability meant you can carry something else too it's not point
five herniation spur block and we
discovered that the maximum weight you could make this machine was two pounds
and I believe that we'll find that when the industry eventually gets around to
making reasonable ones of these things that the maximum weight of those things
will be two pounds so this became kind
of a holy grail now the idea of let's let's not worry about adults anymore
they're hopeless but let's actually try and make something that will help
children go up to be more interesting than the than the average adult is and
the reason we knew this would work is that Gordon Moore had started noticing
that there was a possibility of doubling
the number of components on a silicon chip and having their size and so forth
somewhere between the rate of a factor of two every year and a factor of two
every two years and in fact the interior
jacketed jaggedly lying there is what actually happened so here's the guy who
gave us a 30 year prediction of exactly what was going to happen in silicon you
know what IBM and Dec didn't pay any attention to this that's why they're
almost out of business today but some of
us started thinking about wow all we have to do is go out you know because
that's a factor of two every 18 months or so is about a factor
of a hundred every decade so we thought
gee whiz factor of hundred every decade in ten years we'll be able to have a
machine that has the same computing power for a hundredth of the cost and it
will be one hundredth the size incredible and so we could start
thinking about how long it was going to take to do these various technologies
and here's another thing just to give you yet another understanding of how
long ago these ideas came about the whole idea of virtual reality goes back
to the mid 60s and was actually implemented in the late 60s so here's
the first real reality helmet done by Ivan Sutherland again at the University
of Utah in 1969 and again this is an
idea that's taking and I think doctors especially can understand why being able
to deal with things by immersing yourself inside the computer rather than
having the computer outside of you might be incredibly useful for learning
understanding communicating and so forth
well at this period there were three
ways of thinking about doing interactive computing there was a really expensive
terminal into a mainframe there is my
little desktop computer the Flex machine and then this new idea that I'd had of
the laptop computer and that reminded me
of something I had seen before which was
the history of printing manuscript
Bibles for instance cost millions of dollars and often had precious gems on
them because the gems were nothing compared to the 10 or 15 years it took
to have one of these things copied and made how many people in the room think
they have 372 or more books in home we
all probably do and you might why did he say 372 well its hat it happens that in
the Year 1400 they took a census of the Vatican Library which was the one of the
largest libraries in Europe and it exactly 372 books in it the richest man
in France the brother of the king is about ten times as rich as the King Jean
Duke Du Barry was a bibliophile and had many books created for him and he when
he died the inventory of his library was
154 books this is in 1435 so this first
phase of books and interactive computing
only an institution could own then in
this middle phase came the Gutenberg Bible which looked as much like a
hand-done Bible as possible Gutenberg even had two hundred and fifty three
separate characters in his type font so he could mimic every abbreviation and
style that the Gothic scribes had and as you see there the Gutenberg Bible was
actually hand illuminated so they put it through the press then they would have
people come in who had worked on manuscript books to put illuminations and because they wanted this thing to
look exactly what if they thought a book should be liked and these Gutenberg Bibles if you've seen they're about this
big big heavy bulky things and then
something really interesting happened about fifty years later around the Year 1500 Aldous whose last name was not
pagemaker [Laughter]
Aldus Manutius a Venetian printer
decided that book should be this size fact the size the most books are today
was specified by Aldous and what's
particularly poignant about the story is the reason that books are this size
today and this is something you'll never forget now whenever you look at a book is to realize that Aldous decided they
should be this size by going out into Venice and measuring people's saddlebags
because the first run from his press was called the portable library in the books
now instead of being millions of dollars in these institutional books or sixty
thousand dollars in the case of a Gutenberg Bible were now down to about
$100 a piece and Aldous was actually the
faux mentor of the real revolution in printing now think about this the fifty
years between Gutenberg and Aldous in the history of printing did not count
nothing that happened in those 50 years is like what happened since then guess
where we are in the history of personal computing we are squarely in the middle
trying to as McLuhan said driving faster and faster into the future but only
steering by looking in the rearview mirror and in fact it was that was what
it was the similarity of the Flex machine personal computer to time
sharing terminal it made me realize hey wait a minute we're not even thinking here we're just slavishly reusing forms
there's no reason why a personal computer should look like a time sharing
terminal we just didn't know any more about what they should look like then Gutenberg
knew what a book should look like so that means that any belief systems
you're likely to have generated about computing today are likely to be totally
obsolete over the next ten years because we are now going through this phase
transition to this third form of computing and I back then in the late
60s I gave names these phases or belief systems
institutional personal computing and intimate computing an intimate computer
you can think of as being kind of like part of your clothing something that
would be remarkable only if you didn't have it and one of the things we
realized that if it was going to be portable like your course in California
here will will weave computers into our
t-shirts because again that's another way of thinking about what Moore's law
is all about and we realized that the
the big differentiable factor for intimate computing was going to be
Portability and it meant that the networking was going to be by wireless
and so when you're looking for and this is again they're interesting things
about should you even buy a PDA that can't do wireless communication and the
answer is no you shouldn't bother buying a PDA that can't do Wireless and try and
set what the criteria for that might be because that is when the leverage of
learning this new way of thinking about things starts getting into balance now
once you have the world organized into
separate belief systems you can start asking questions like how do you print and of course the institutional printing
has these fan fold paper personal computers are not mobile so we decided
well we better invent something like a laser printer but the intimate computer
is far enough in the evolution of things
so that we aren't going to want to print and in part because if you think about
what angle Bart was doing there of dealing with hyperlinked stuff you can't print out hyperlink stuff you can't
print out the world wide web and you can't print out dynamic simulations so
all of the things that computers are actually good for and in fact the things that are going to be the biggest impact
in your lives are not printable of course bills are printable
so maybe I am overreaching here but I
certainly remember a couple of years ago I found out that my doctor was still using this green and white stripe
fan-fold paper I wondered what other old techniques he
might still be hanging on to so again
just two asking questions about this we realized that sort of a high-resolution
printing approach to things required us to invent a new kind of computer ethics
in fonts and eventually there'd be enough bits in the world by Moore's law
to take every kind of medium that has ever been used to hold our
representations and to make them all digital so that differentiates that
third area just even how you measure performance response time from a
time-sharing system we measure MIPS or megahertz when we buy personal computers
which is completely irrelevant but the most important way to think about it is
access can you sitting at your computer or with your computer with you out on
the field or in a hospital room will you be able to access all of the different
things that are relevant to what your task is can you bring those things to
your machine will they interoperate with the things that you have the answer
right now is absolutely not you can't do any of those things and the things that
you need to push for are these it's not a question of dealing with information but again being able to contextualize
the information we realized new
interview user interfaces would have to be invented when you only have a few
thousand people learning a system like on an airlines reservation system you
can train them but most of the people are going to use personal computers in
the middle there aren't going to be in a situation to be trained there will be millions of them so the user interface
has to be learn about by them and we realized again that by the time we got
to intimate computing that the computers would be powerful enough to learn the
user all right so this another phase transition is tremendous is going to
happen just to the next few years my friend Nick Nicholas Negroponte
has a couple of powerful images his images from Moore's law which is the
ability to make everything digital said to him that there's going to be incredible implosion between three
fields that don't that didn't 20 years ago talk to each other at all publishing
entertainment and computing they were all going to fuse into one thing another
interesting idea he had that every signal that now traveled through the air
like television was now going to travel
through the ground there's going to be this change abrupt change would all go to cable and fiber and everything that
now travels for the ground like telephones were going to be sent through
the air right now of course this isn't
going to be completely true but the way you get the truth is by completely exaggerated by throwing the quartz lamp
on it - enough to get contrast and his
insight was really good because mobility is part of the destiny of personal
computing as the computers get smaller and smaller as people get more and more mobile there's only so much bandwidth
out in the ether and therefore almost all of it should be used for a mobile
digital whereas television and other kinds of things might as well go into
the ground and there so this is an insight by knee growing to about 20
years ago or so and here's my favorite eager Ponty one which is he said we'll
know it's the future when my left cuff length can communicate with my right
cuff linked by a satellite
now again you could say well that's hyperbolic Nicholas but how many people
here have found themselves at a restaurant table with somebody who else
has a cellular phone anybody have you ever tried calling them
you ever thought of where your call might have gone in order to get to the
other side of the table now it's the important thing for you to understand is
that it is indeed totally possible in even in the next five years for your
left cufflink to communicate with your right cufflink by satellite the same
amount of power that your portable phones put out now is enough power to
get up through the ionosphere to a low-flying satellite and within the next
five years we'll be start buying even the StarTAC of Motorola which is only a
three and a half ounce phone could be fitted to go up into the ionosphere now
of course we might want to have something more noble to do than just having our cuff links talk to each other
but the metaphor here is the powerful one okay now if we go back to where is
the computer you use what we decide to do at Xerox PARC is to implement the
middle one because that's where the technology was and the first proposal
was to do something like this this is 1971 or so then in 1972 we built this
machine which is the first thing to be like a workstation or like the Macintosh
this is the first image you ever put up on it because you you all of a sudden
you could paint on it you can make really nice characters on it you could
have something to look more like printing quality text on it we invented
desktop publishing and screen painting multimedia and the overlapping windows
interface and now if we could go to the
let's go to the the overhead thing here
I'll just show you that by 1975 about 25
people had created this machine I talked about the interface desktop publishing
object-oriented programming pages second laser printing the ethernet and
pierre-pierre client-server computing
these are all the technologies that you're wrestling with now they're more than twenty years old now now what
happened well nobody showed up at the wedding and here's what happens we go
back to Kessler again and notice that
when a technological advance comes along there's two basic ways you can think
about doing this you can try and force it into being something that you already
know like Gutenberg did with the with the printed Bible and that's what has
happened or you can try and embrace it as a blue idea and try and think of
what's new and important about and let's leverage that but this pink way the
staying on the pink I think gives you an idea that the about the same mental
effort as it took to invent the stuff in the first place is required for people
to reinvent it in their mind there's a problem with imagination that's a little
easier to learn calculus than to invent calculus from scratch but only a little
bit easier we have to go through the same changes in process we have to build
the new structures in our head similar to what Newton went through when he
invented it we can be guided but the fact that we can be guided doesn't mean
it's going to be easy and it generally isn't it's much easier to try and first
reject it as Schopenhauer pointed out and then to say oh that's obvious
because now it's been assimilated as being like everything else that's around and then ten years later the original
rejecters claim to have invented it these things get absorbed in and very
little changed takes place so I want to finish the talk by just exploring a
couple of the ways that humans shoot themselves in the foot why can't we
learn things faster and of course this is a talk all of its own but I'll just
show you a couple of interesting notions here's another way of looking at the
goldfish bowl this is one that scientists particularly like it's an interesting fact about
frogs that if you take their natural food which your flies paralyze them with
a little chloroform so they're still alive put the flies around the frog the frog
will starve to death because the frogs nervous system cannot see that these
paralyzed flies are its natural food if
you flip a little piece of oblong shaped cardboard at the Frog it will try and
eat it every time and one way of thinking about this is these little
flies are actually the ideas that we need to have they're around us all the
time but we just can't see them we're always snapping at the cardboard that's
in what our nervous system is willing to let us notice another interesting thing
about some frogs is if you heat up the water slowly enough they will just
remain in there and get cooked this is one of my images of Corporate America
and of course the opposite image of this is also true which is when the
saber-tooth Tiger does appear of getting so frightened
the only reflexive things are done so this the joke is well I don't have to
fix the roof because it isn't raining and when it's raining well I can't fix the roof because it's raining so nothing
happens so both the extremes of this picture are important lots of different
layers of our nervous system are set up to give us completely false information
about the world there are dozens of these illusions where here the
rectangles of course are the same size you're all familiar from your psychology
class as long ago but seeing isn't believing we see what we believe our
beliefs about the world are what
conditions what we're able to see here's a more profound one if you take a look
at this upside-down face here can you
see anything unusual about this what's the teeth or what teeth or side down
okay so let's pretend we're in medical school actually I'm allowed to make these jokes
is like one of my undergraduate majors was molecular biology it happened to be
it was in a small College where the biology majors did exactly the same
track as the pre-meds and so one of the things we got were all
sorts of wonderful pre-med type jokes let's suppose we're in any normal
American institution of learning where it's believed that knowledge is a fluid
that you can transfer a drop by drop from the full teacher vessel to the empty student vessel and of course the
transfer is done in terms of English sentences so an English sentence about
this picture is we've taken a picture of a young girl extracted her mouth and her
eyes turned them upside down put them
back into the picture and then turned the picture upside down I see you
nodding that that sounds reasonable so you should be quite prepared for what it looks like I notice you had a completely
different reaction but I didn't change the amount of information that I'd given
you back I'm going to change this back because I've discovered that nobody will
listen to me when it's on the other way
this is why McDonald's doesn't run print ads saying that if you eat McDonald's
hamburgers you'll become a better-looking person because in language is absurd but in fact what they
do run our ads showing gorgeous looking people eating McDonald's hamburgers and
a different part of your brain does the inference that the advertisers want it
that some psychologist once said to McLuhan why do you keep on making up all
this obscure jargon why don't you read psychology books and use the correct
terms for all of this stuff you're talking about and he says in the 50s he
said all you psychologists only study right rats he says I like to see what advertisers do they are the ones who are
really studying human beings so the
notion here is that even though we think of ourselves as a single identity our
minds are actually made up of separately
acting modules contending for a single body and
this one is actually this particular effect over here is understood quite well and it's actually built into most
mammals this reaction that you have so if you try this out on a dog I suggest
you pick a small one and one of the
biggest problems with teaching is that the parts of your mind that you want to
have learn often don't understand English this is why it's so hard to
teach many things in terms of English sentences because many cases you have to
do it you have to feel it you have to
see it okay so let's roll the next the last cut
here I think everybody will recognize
this go ahead of one of the most unforgettable news stories ever reported
the scene Midland Texas 1987 another
yard several youngsters had been playing
here and one of them 18 month old Jessica McClure has toppled down into a
narrow unused uncapped well she is
wedged in there 22 feet below the ground dozens of rescue workers are frantically
trying to get her out but it's a long difficult job hundreds of neighbors are
watching praying Jessica's teenaged parents chip and sits
on the floor stand there looking very young and very scared
what's your prayer [Music]
the media moves in like an army of course the biggest problem is the
rescuers if everybody is everybody remember this it's wonderful I've been
able to use this over and in Europe and even in the Pacific Rim the entire world
sat glued to their television sets for the 58 and a half hours she was in that
well she's in there for more than two days and they finally got her out and
here's an interesting thing in those in those 58 and a half hours that all this
activity was going on according to the World Health Organization 105 thousand
children died of easily present preventable causes for lack of water for
lack of a dollar inoculation and a fact
there's about 10 million children die each year a holocaust worth of children
each year from easily preventable cause now I think you are aware of this but
this is a perfect example of the difference in human beings Minds between
a real disaster in which people will
risk their lives for perfect strangers and gang together and jump into rivers
and lift cars off people go into burning buildings and wean the big the enormous
true disasters of our time which aren't yet happening like the World Health
Organization estimates 50 million people in the Pacific Rim alone are going to
die of AIDS in the next 10 years and 35
million in Africa in spite of the fact that there's treatment for it so one of
the things you could say about us human beings is we have incredibly puny
imaginations and especially we cannot
look at an exponential curve that represents what it happens in an
epidemic and have it the enormity the concrete enormity that would cause us to
muster ourselves into action to leap into our mind vividly enough in order
for us to do something because it's one of the hallmarks of civilized societies
that we have developed some of that imagination we plan a lot more than
traditional societies do and B we plan because we do have that we are starting
to develop some of that but I think the lack of vividness of imagination
is probably the thing that holds most of us back from dealing with a new idea
when it comes we just can't imagine what
it's going to be like one of the ways of dealing with us by the way is to take
yourself 15 years into the future and try and imagine things in which it would
be ridiculous for them not to be there just from judging what I for instance
Moore's law is going to go on for another 15 years that means every 18
months the computing power will that you have on your desk right now will cost
half as much or the size of the computer will be half that size carry that out
for 15 years and you have something that you can put into a ring there will be
many times more powerful than what you have on your compiled a and just try and
imagine what it would be like for that to be there and how ridiculous it would
be if it didn't happen in fact it is going to happen so we have this little
keyhole the keyhole we can see something
in there it could be something simple and exciting like a little girl dropping
into a well or it could be something really boring like the start of an epidemic we have to open up the keyhole
and again this is another way of thinking about let's look at the blue stuff as well as the pink stuff we are
great problem solvers this is one of the hallmarks of our civilization a problem
solving is one of the worst things to have as a central goal too many
mosquitoes let's dump the DDT in but in fact it wasn't a problem it was a system
all sorts of other things are actually at work there and we wind up with
something much worse than we have in fact there are three general ways of
solving problems this first one is the kind of the drunkards walk the random walk so I think of the executive way of
solving problems which is you can get two from A to B if you walk around
randomly enough and eventually you get there and that's so much fun that
exactly was keep on doing it and it's also an interesting
explanation for why executives want B to be so close to a right because random
walks work much better the closer B is to a now as problem solvers going to
college we learn to reduce the differences between us and our goal this
is the general American way of doing things it's also a disaster because
what's usually going on is that there are enormous Grand Canyon's that we
can't see the world is not two-dimensional it's actually three-dimensional so they're Grand
Canyon's the huge mountains and if we just plot towards the goal tell you an
interesting story Fineman was convinced to work on the atomic bomb project
because it looked like hitler was going to develop an atomic bomb and he tells
the story that he was jumping around
with everybody else when they tested the first atomic bomb and then all of a sudden they looked at each other and
realized that the war in Europe had been over for six months the sub goal had
become the goal the solution of the problem had become the problem now the
way things really work well is the bottom one in which you have to go away
from the goal until you find a superhighway superhighway is called a
powerful idea you get on the superhighway it will take you over very
close to B and lots of other interesting places and you get off not going away
from the goal in order to find the superhighway is called scientific
research it is the hardest thing to explain to potential funders why they
should fund going away from the goals in order to get these super hires in spite
of the fact that everything interesting that has happened over the last four
hundred years has been from finding the super highways here's one of my favorite
ones it's a hand axe and you notice that the one on the left is designed so that
when you hit with it you grab it from the bottom when you hit with it it also hits you the more you chop with it the
more it chops up your hand then sometime later people invented a modified hand
axe which had a blunt ER end that didn't chop up your hand as much when you chop things with it and I wonder if anybody
in this room knows what the period of time between these two hand axe
as was anybody got a guess
okay two-hundred thousand two hundred thousand years but I'm sure that in many
villages somebody was chopping with this
thing and said man this hurts I'll just
I'll just whack off the end of this thing and this is much better in the
persons chopping with it and some elder in the tribe came along and said what are you doing this person would be
ejected from the tribe immediately or burned at the stake or something so one
way of thinking about where we are is that we're essentially cave people
carrying briefcases around our brains are roughly the same brains as far as
anybody can tell us we had so long ago and whenever we act like a cave person
in face of these new contexts we lose
okay so here's the last idea how can we
get around this well in any challenge we
bring some ability or skill when the challenge and skill are pretty much
matched we have this nice condition is called flow everybody has experienced
this the time seems to pass very quickly the problem is is that the balance
between challenge and skill is a very
narrow one very chancy if the challenge is a little bit more than the skill we
start getting anxious if the skill is
more than the challenge we start getting bored and the problem is that most of
the good learning that we do is done in this place where we're in this flow State
so one of the ways we can deal with
places that are anxious is to increase safety that allows the flow area that
means we can take on more challenge than we have skill for and that allows us to
do more learning but the most important one I think the hardest one for
Americans to deal with is that what to do and we have more skill than the
challenge the answer is we have to increase our awareness we have to and
one of the ways of doing that is increasing our stead cents over what it is that we're
actually doing this is what allows us to widen out and getting get one of these aha and ahhs so if you want to get those
terrific ideas you have hiding behind your good pink ones the best weapon for
it is the one between your ears providing your that weapon is loaded
thank you [Applause]
thank you very very much dr. kay that concludes this morning session on to the
focus sessions thank you [Music]
good morning ladies and gentlemen would
you please take your seats welcome to the association's final
plenary session our presider this morning is the president of the
association dr. Jordan Cohen